The critical and box office success of The Dark Knight is a reminder to take another look at the last re-booted Batman and Joker, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s broody re-imagining of a character then best remembered for the campy 1960’s television series. Ledger is sensational in “The Dark Knight,” but so is Nicholson in a performance included in the American Film Institute’s list of the 50 all-time best movie villains. The visuals, the music, and most of all the performances make this movie a very worthy precursor to the current re-imagining of the enduring story.
It’s The Shawshank Redemption part two, or it tries to be. It has voiceover narration by Morgan Freeman. It has an inspiring and life-affirming friendship — featuring Morgan Freeman. It just is not very good.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the movie. And if, after seeing the trailer you want to see the movie, then you will get what you are expecting, a formulaic feel-good story of two dying men who finally learn how to live. There just will not be one original or authentic moment along the way. This is the kind of thing old pros Freeman, Jack Nicholson, and director Rob Reiner can pretty much phone in, and that is what they do.
We know the minute we see bombastic Jack Nicholson insisting that the hospitals he owns are not health spas and that everyone shares a room, no exceptions, that soon he will be sharing a room and won’t be happy about it. We know that when saintly though embittered Morgan Freeman shows up in that other bed in the room, they are there to teach each other important life lessons about the importance of connections and living life to the fullest.
But the movie’s idea of living life to the fullest is, well, not very full. It consists of sky-diving and tourism. There are some moments of family reconciliation that are thrown in toward the end but never shared, much less explored. Dying just seems an excuse for a geriatric, spend-it-all Spring Break.
The movie continually undercuts its own ostensible messages. It preaches authenticity but practices facsimile. It preaches tenderness but fetishises hedonism. It preaches on behalf of home but glamorizes running away. Freeman and Nicholson are always watchable, but the best their finer moments in this movie can do is remind us of how much better they are in other films.